How to Ask Better Chemistry Questions in the HSC

Asking good questions is essential to improving your understanding of HSC Chemistry. However, formulating effective questions which can help you clarify confusing concepts, encourage critical thinking, enable effective communication, and identifiy knowledge gaps, can be challenging. By asking well-formulated questions, you can enhance your learning experience and become better equipped to solve complex chemistry problems.

Here are a few tips which can help you to ask better questions:

1. Try to clarify your understanding first

Before asking a question, take time to clarify your own understanding of the topic. Consider what you already know and what you are unsure about. By trying to understanding first, you can ask more targeted and specific questions, beyond questions which simply test your knowledge.

2. Use open-ended questions

Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no". Instead, use open-ended questions that encourage discussion and deeper thinking. For example, "How does X affect Y?" or "What are the different ways which we can approach this problem?"

3. Be specific

When asking a question, be as specific as possible. This can both help you and the person you are asking avoid confusion and ensure that you receive a relevant answer. For example, instead of asking "Can you explain the periodic table?", you could ask "Can you explain the organisation of elements in the periodic table?"

A specific question will allow for a more detailed answer which in turn is more likely to resolve confusions and improve your understanding.

4. Provide context

When asking a question, provide context to help others understand the specific issue you are trying to address. This can include information about your current understanding, previous discussions, experiments, or assignments.

Ask yourself these questions:

How did you come across this problem or question? What part of the problem or concept do you already understand? Do you need help with the theory, practical or calculation aspect of the concept? 

5. Ask follow-up questions

Don't be afraid to ask follow-up questions if you can't fully understand the answer. Follow-up questions can help to clarify concepts and ensure that you have a deeper understanding of the topic.

You should also try paraphrasing the explanation you just received. Paraphrasing means you should explain what you understand from what's being said in your own words rather than simply repeating what's said. Doing so allows the explainer to identify any misunderstandings and whether information has been communicated correctly. 


Let's look at some sample questions which we can ask and how they can be improved:

Original question: How do covalent bonds form?

The original question "How do covalent bonds form?" is too broad and vague. It does not provide enough context or specificity. The answer to the question could range from a brief general explanation to a detailed scientific explanation, depending on the level of knowledge of the person answering the question. This makes it difficult for the person answering the question to provide a response that is both helpful and informative.

Improved question: Can you explain the steps involved in the formation of a covalent bond, including the sharing of electrons and the types of covalent bonds that can form?

This is an improved version of the original question because it is more specific and focused. It asks for a step-by-step explanation of how covalent bonds are formed, including the sharing of electrons and the different types of covalent bonds that exist.
By asking for specific steps and types, this question prompts a more detailed and informative answer, allowing the person answering the question to provide a more complete and thorough explanation. Additionally, this question allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the topic, as it covers multiple aspects of covalent bonds.

Further improved question: Can you explain the process of covalent bond formation with regards to the sharing of electrons and thus how the properties of covalent bonds differ from ionic bonds?

This is a further improved version of the original question because it adds additional specificity and context to the topic. 
By asking specifically about the process of covalent bond formation with regards to the sharing of electrons, this question further narrows down the what the student needs help for. 
Additionally, the question includes a comparative aspect, asking how covalent bonds differ from ionic bonds in terms of their properties. This provides context and allows the explainer to place an emphasis on particular aspects of covalent bonds that are different to ionic bonds.
A more detailed and tailored explanation will help you deepen the understanding of the topic by highlighting key differences between the two types of bonds.


In conclusion, asking well-formulated questions can enhance your learning experience and equip you with the necessary tools to solve complex chemistry problems. By following the tips discussed in this article and refining your questioning skills, you can make the most of your HSC Chemistry studies.

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